Malunkyaputta Sutta – Staying Focused

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The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta (Mulunkyaputta Sutta)is another sutta where the Buddha is questioned regarding the “Great Existential Questions” that humanity has been seeking answers for since the beginning of time. The Buddha consistently refused to answer anything that would prove to be a distraction from the goal of the Eightfold Path, or would only reinforce ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

As Buddhism developed many of the accommodations and embellishments made to the Buddha’s teachings were done to provide answers to these questions. When looked at closely, and in the context of The Four Noble Truths, many of these questions have an underlying motive of establishing a permanent “self” in the physical realm or a non-physical realm.

The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta

The Buddha was at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. One of the Monks of the sangha, Malunkyaputta was in seclusion when the thought occurred to him: “The Buddha does not give an answer when asked certain questions:

• Is the cosmos eternal or not eternal?
• Is the cosmos finite or infinite?
• Does a body have a soul, or not?
• Does an awakened person exist after death, or do they not exist after death, or do they both exist and not exist, or neither of these?

“I don’t accept that the Buddha refuses to answer these questions. I will seek him out and ask him about this. If his answers satisfy me then I will continue as his disciple. If he refuses to answer me I will leave the sangha.”

That evening Malunkyaputta went to the Buddha and upon greeting the Buddha with a bow, sat to one side. “Great Teacher, I have been pondering why you do not provide a satisfying answer to these questions:

• Is the cosmos eternal or not eternal?
• Is the cosmos finite or infinite?
• Does a body have a soul, or not?
• Does an awakened person exist after death, or do they not exist after death, or do they both exist and not exist, or neither of these?

If you can answer these questions based on your knowing I will remain a disciple. If you cannot answer these questions from not knowing I will leave the sangha.

“Malunkyaputta did I ever tell you, or even imply, that my teaching would answer these questions, or that these questions deserve an answer?”

“No, Great Teacher.”

“Well then, why are you claiming a grievance or making a demand of me? If you threaten to leave the sangha unless these questions are answered by me, then you should leave the sangha.

“You are like a man who has been wounded by a poisonous arrow. His friends brought him to a surgeon but they refuse to have the arrow removed until they know who shot the arrow, their position, their physical attributes and even what type of bow they used. They further delay the action that will save them by insisting on knowing what type of animal the arrow feathers are from, and the type of wood it is composed of. All of these questions have nothing to do with the matter at hand. They will die never knowing the answers to these foolish questions which only proved to be a distraction from what is most important.

“Whatever your view is of these questions the Right View is Dukkha occurs, craving originates and clinging perpetuates Dukkha, cessation of this process is possible, the Eightfold Path is the path developing cessation.

“I do not answer these questions as they are not fundamental with the goal. They do not develop disenchantment, dispassion, with calming, with unbinding, with direct knowledge, with awakening. This is why I do not answer these questions.

“I do make it very clear that:

1. Dukkha Occurs
2. Craving originates and clinging continues Dukkha
3. Cessation of this process is possible
4. The Eightfold Path develops cessation

“I make this very clear for one purpose – this develops disenchantment, dispassion, with calming, with unbinding, with direct knowledge, with awakening. This is why I teach the Dhamma.

“Always remember what I teach and what I do not teach.”
Having heard these words Malunkyaputta was satisfied and went on his way.

End Of Sutta

Much like the Buddha’s encounters with Vacchagota (and others) the Buddha knew that answering any questions that would only lead to more ignorance and confusion was cruel. Rather than be distracted by his own need to mollify his students or prove how knowledgeable he might be, he remains silent when asked questions that are rooted in ignorance and only seek to further ignorant self-referential views.

Through great compassion rooted in profound wisdom and clear vision, the Buddha consistently spared his disciples any teaching that did not directly develop his stated purpose of “understanding suffering and the path developing the cessation of suffering.”

This dhamma article is based on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent translation of the Pali linked below. I have made contextual edits for further clarity and relevancy to The Four Noble Truths.

Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta

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